Former Australian Tax Office auditor Chris Seage writes:
Last week I was advised by Russell Chafer, Secretariat of the Public Accounts and Audit Committee, that the committee will be looking into the Australian Taxation Office settlement guidelines with corporate Australia. This was after Chafer provided Tony Smith MP, chair of the joint committee, with copies of articles in Crikey relating to flaws in the settlement guidelines. As a result, Mr Smith decided to include ATO settlement guidelines in his “Inquiry reviewing certain Taxation Matters within Australia”.
Mr Smith has invited me to lodge a submission to his committee.
If King Canute lived in the 21st century it wouldn’t be the waves he’d be trying to turn back – it would surely be the rush of top company directors trampling all in their way wanting to do a “settlement” with the tax commissioner. Such is the perception of the ATO with ordinary Australians on Struggle Street these days, particularly in light of the notorious Gerard Industries case where the company had its tax bill halved without penalties or prosecution even though the company was allegedly involved in international tax avoidance.
This perception of the tax administration is one reason why this committee has an ideal opportunity to make a difference and to recommend that tax laws on secrecy need changing. Otherwise it will become another toothless tiger like the 2000 Senate Economics Committee which recommended major changes to the ATO’s settlement guidelines which were never taken up by an arrogant administration.
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And if you thought that the appointment of new tax commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo would change things you are sadly mistaken. In preparing this article I asked D’Ascenzo for the same information that parliamentary committees had recommended be made public to the Australian people about the ATO’s Code of Settlement Practice and their settlement register. He refused to provide me with the information.